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Japanese Technology Evaluation Center


JTEC Monograph on
Biodegradable Polymers and Plastics in
Japan: Research, Development, and

Robert W. Lenz

March 1995


International Technology Research Institute

Loyola College in Maryland
4501 North Charles Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21210-2699
Sponsored by the National Science Foundation of the United States Government and the following U.S. companies:

Eastman Chemical Co. Kimberly Clark Corp.

Ecochem Rohm & Haas Co.
Cargill 3M
Gillette Co. Tambrands Inc.
International Specialty Products United States Surgical Corp.
Johnson & Johnson Zeneca BioProducts

Prof. Robert W. Lenz

Polymer Science & Engineering Dept.
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Amherst, MA 01003-4530



The Japanese Technology Evaluation Center (JTEC) and its companion World Technology
Evaluation Center (WTEC) at Loyola College provide assessments of foreign research and
development in selected technologies under a cooperative agreement with the National Science
Foundation (NSF). Loyola's International Technology Research Institute (ITRI), R.D. Shelton,
Director, is the umbrella organization for JTEC and WTEC. Paul Herer, Senior Advisor for
Planning and Technology Evaluation at NSF's Engineering Directorate, is NSF Program Director
for JTEC and WTEC. Other U.S. government agencies that provide support for the program
include the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Department of Energy, the
Department of Commerce, and the Department of Defense.

JTEC/WTEC's mission is to inform U.S. policy makers, strategic planners, and managers about the
state of selected technologies in foreign countries in comparison to the United States. JTEC/WTEC
assessments cover basic research, advanced development, and applications/commercialization. A
variety of methodologies are employed; in general, small panels of about six technical experts
conduct JTEC/WTEC assessments. Panelists are leading authorities in their field, technically
active, and knowledgeable about U.S. and foreign research programs. As part of the assessment
process, panels visit and carry out extensive discussions with foreign scientists and engineers in
university, industry, and government labs.

Depending on the study, the ITRI staff at Loyola College may help select topics, recruit expert
panelists, arrange study visits to foreign laboratories, organize workshop presentations, and edit
and disseminate the final reports.

Dr. Michael J. DeHaemer Mr. Geoff Holdridge Dr. George Gamota

Principal Investigator JTEC/WTEC Staff Director Senior Advisor to JTEC/WTEC
Loyola College Loyola College Mitre Corporation
Baltimore, MD 21210 Baltimore, MD 21210 Bedford, MA 01730

Biodegradable Polymers and Plastics in Japan:

Research, Development, and Applications

March 1995

Robert W. Lenz
Polymer Science and Engineering Department
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

ISBN 1-883712-38-6
This document was sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) of the United States
Government under NSF Grant ENG-93-14162, awarded to the University of Massachusetts at
Amherst, and NSF Cooperative Agreement ENG-9217849, awarded to the International
Technology Research Institute at Loyola College in Maryland. Additional sponsorship came from
12 U.S. companies listed under Acknowledgments in the Executive Summary. Any opinions,
findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are solely those of the
authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Government, the authors'
parent institutions, or Loyola College.
A fact-finding team of American scientists and engineers visited Japan to assess the status of
research and development and applications in biodegradable polymers. The visit was sponsored
by the National Science Foundation and industry. In Japan, the team met with representatives of
31 universities, government ministries and institutes, companies, and associations.

Japan's national program on biodegradable polymers and plastics evaluates new technologies,
testing methods, and potential markets for biodegradables. The program is coordinated by the
Biodegradable Plastics Society of Japan, which seeks to achieve world leadership in
biodegradable polymer technology and identify commercial opportunities for exploiting this

The team saw no major new technology breakthroughs. Japanese scientists and engineers are
focusing on natural polymers from renewable resources, synthetic polymers, and bacterially-
produced polymers such as polyhydroxyalkanoates, poly(amino acids), and polysaccharides.
The major polymers receiving attention are the Zeneca PHBV copolymers, Biopol®, poly(lactic
acid) from several sources, polycaprolactone, and the new synthetic polyester, Bionolle®, from
Showa High Polymer. In their present state of development, these polymers all have major
deficiencies that inhibit their acceptance for large-scale applications.


Michael J. DeHaemer, Principal Investigator, Director

Geoffrey M. Holdridge, Staff Director and JTEC/WTEC Series Editor
Catrina M. Foley, Secretary
Arnett J. Holloway, Editor

International Technology Research Institute at Loyola College

R. D. Shelton, Director

Copyright 1995 by Loyola College in Maryland and Robert W. Lenz. The U.S. Government retains a
nonexclusive and nontransferable license to exercise all exclusive rights provided by copyright. The ISBN
number for this report is 1-883712-38-6. This report is distributed by the National Technical Information
Service (NTIS) of the U.S. Department of Commerce as NTIS Report # PB95-199071. Information on
ordering from NTIS and a list of JTEC/WTEC reports available from NTIS are included on the inside back
cover of this report.


The National Science Foundation (NSF) has been involved in funding technology
assessments comparing the United States and foreign countries since 1983. A sizable
proportion of this activity has been in the Japanese Technology Evaluation Center (JTEC)
and World Technology Evaluation Center (WTEC) programs. NSF has supported more
than thirty JTEC and WTEC studies over a wide range of technical topics.

As U.S. technological leadership is challenged in areas of previous dominance such as

aeronautics, space, and nuclear power, many governmental and private organizations seek
to set policies that will help maintain U.S. strengths. To do this effectively requires an
understanding of the relative position of the United States and its competitors. The purpose
of the JTEC/WTEC program is to assess research and development efforts in other
countries in specific areas of technology, to compare these efforts and their results to U.S.
research in the same areas, and to identify opportunities for international collaboration in
precompetitive research.

Many U.S. organizations support substantial data gathering and analysis efforts directed at
nations such as Japan. But often the results of these studies are not widely available. At the
same time, government and privately sponsored studies that are in the public domain tend to
be "input" studies; that is, they provide enumeration of inputs to the research and
development process, such as monetary expenditures, personnel data, and facilities, but do
not provide an assessment of the quality or quantity of the outputs obtained.

Studies of the outputs of the research and development process are more difficult to perform
because they require a subjective analysis performed by individuals who are experts in the
relevant technical fields. The NSF staff includes professionals with expertise in a wide
range of disciplines. These individuals provide the technical expertise needed to assemble
panels of experts that can perform competent, unbiased, technical reviews of research and
development activities.

Specific technologies, such as telecommunications, biotechnology, microelectromechanical

systems, and nuclear power, are selected for study by government agencies that have an
interest in obtaining the results of an assessment and are able to contribute to its funding. A
typical assessment is sponsored by two to four agencies. In the first few years of the
program, most of the studies focused on Japan, reflecting concern over Japan's growing
economic prowess. Studies were largely defined by a few federal mission agencies that
contributed most of the funding, such as the Department of Commerce, the Department of
Defense, and the Department of Energy.

The early JTEC methodology involved assembling a team of U.S. experts (usually six
people from universities, industry, and government), reviewing the extant literature, and
writing a final report. Within a few years, the program began to evolve. First we added site

visits. Panels traveled to Japan for a week and visited twenty to thirty industrial and
research sites. Then, as interest in Japan increased, a larger number of agencies became
involved as cosponsors of studies. Over the ten-year history of the program, fifteen separate
branches in six agencies of the federal government (including NSF) have supported JTEC
and WTEC studies.

Beginning in 1990, we began to broaden the geographic focus of the studies. As interest in
the European Community (now the European Union) grew, we added Europe as area of
study. With the breakup of the former Soviet Union, we began organizing visits to
previously restricted research sites opening up there. These most recent WTEC studies
have focused on identifying opportunities for cooperation with researchers and institutes in
Russia, the Ukraine, and Belarus, rather than on assessing them from a competitive

In the past four years, we also have begun to substantially expand our efforts to disseminate
information. Attendance at JTEC/WTEC workshops (in which panels present preliminary
findings) has increased, especially industry participation. Representatives of U.S. industry
now routinely number 50 percent or more of the total attendance, with a broad cross section
of government and academic representatives making up the remainder. JTEC and WTEC
studies have also started to generate increased interest beyond the science and technology
community, with more workshop participation by policymakers and better exposure in the
general press (e.g., Wall Street Journal, New York Times). Publications by JTEC and
WTEC panel members based on our studies have increased, as have the number of
presentations by panelists at professional society meetings.

The JTEC/WTEC program will continue to evolve in response to changing conditions in

the years to come. NSF is now considering new initiatives aimed at the following

• Expanding opportunities for the larger science and technology community to help define
and organize studies.
• Increasing industry sponsorship of JTEC and WTEC studies. This study on Japanese
biodegradable plastics and polymers R&D is one example. Twelve industrial firms
provided over half of the funds.
• Providing a broader policy and economic context to JTEC/WTEC studies. This is
directed at the need to answer the question, "So what?" that is often raised in connection
with the purely technical conclusions of many JTEC and WTEC panels. What are the
implications of the technical results for U.S. industry and the economy in general? An
economist has joined the current JTEC study on optoelectronics in Japan as part of a
new effort to address these broader questions.

In the end, all government-funded programs must answer the question, How has the
program benefited the nation? A few of the benefits of the JTEC/WTEC program follow:

• JTEC studies have contributed significantly to U.S. benchmarking of the growing

prowess of Japan's technological enterprise. Some have estimated that JTEC has been
responsible for over half of the major Japanese technology benchmarking studies
conducted in the United States in the past decade. JTEC reports have also been widely
cited in various competitiveness studies.
• These studies have provided important input to policymakers in federal mission
agencies. JTEC and WTEC panel chairs have given special briefings to senior officials
of the Department of Energy, to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
(NASA) Administrator, and even to the President's Science Advisor.
• Studies have been of keen interest to U.S. industry, providing managers with a sense of
the competitive environment internationally. Members of the study on satellite
communications have been involved in preliminary discussions concerning the
establishment of two separate industry/university consortia aimed at correcting the
technological imbalances identified by the panel in its report.
• Information from JTEC and WTEC studies also has been valuable to both U.S. and
foreign researchers, suggesting a potential for new research topics and approaches, as
well as opportunities for international cooperation. One JTEC panelist was recently told
by his Japanese hosts that, as a result of his observations and suggestions, they have
recently made significant new advances in their research.
• Not the least important is the educational benefit of the studies. Since 1983 over 200
scientists and engineers from all walks of life have participated as panelists in the
studies. As a result of their experiences, many have changed their viewpoints on the
significance and originality of foreign research. Some have also developed lasting
relationships and ongoing exchanges of information with their foreign hosts as a result
of their participation in these studies.

As we seek to refine the JTEC/WTEC program in the coming years, improving the
methodology and enhancing the impact, program organizers and participants will continue
to operate from the same basic premise that has been behind the program from its inception:
the United States can benefit from a better understanding of cutting-edge research that is
being conducted outside its borders. Improved awareness of international developments can
significantly enhance the scope and effectiveness of international collaboration and thus
benefit all of the United States' international partners in collaborative research and
development efforts.

Paul J. Herer
National Science Foundation
Arlington, VA


Foreword ............................................................................................................................. i
Table of Contents............................................................................................................... v


Background ........................................................................................................................ 1
Introduction........................................................................................................................ 1
Analysis and Conclusion.................................................................................................... 3
Acknowledgments.............................................................................................................. 7


Aicello Chemical Co., Ltd. ................................................................................................ 9

Ajinomoto Co., Inc. ........................................................................................................... 9
Biodegradable Plastics Society (BPS) ............................................................................. 10
Dai Nippon Printing Co., Ltd........................................................................................... 11
EMS Consultants Company............................................................................................. 12
Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN) ................................................... 12
Japan Corn Starch Co., Ltd. ............................................................................................. 11
Kao Corp.......................................................................................................................... 14
Keio University................................................................................................................ 15
Kirin Brewery Co., Ltd. ................................................................................................... 15
Kyoto University, Center for Biomedical Engineering.................................................... 16
Kyoto University, Faculty of Agriculture ........................................................................ 17
Kyoto Institute of Technology (KIT) ............................................................................... 17
Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) ................................................ 18
Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI)....................................................... 19
Mitsubishi Petrochemical Co., Ltd., Yokkaichi Division................................................ 19
Mitsui Toatsu ................................................................................................................... 20
Nagoya University ........................................................................................................... 21
Nippon Gohsei ................................................................................................................. 22
Nippon Shokubai, K.K..................................................................................................... 22
Osaka National Research Institute, Agency of Industrial Science
and Technology (AIST)......................................................................................... 23
Plastics Waste Management Institute (PWMI)................................................................ 24
Shimadzu ......................................................................................................................... 24
Showa High Polymer Co., Ltd. ........................................................................................ 25
Taisei Corp....................................................................................................................... 25
Tokyo Institute of Technology......................................................................................... 26
Toppan Printing ............................................................................................................... 26
vi Contents

Tsukuba Research Center:

National Institute of Bioscience and Human Technology
National Institute of Materials and Chemical Research.........................................27
Unitika ..............................................................................................................................28
Zeneca, K.K......................................................................................................................29


A. Members of the Visiting Team ..............................................................................31

B. Schedule of Visits ..................................................................................................32
C. Questions Posed to Japanese Hosts........................................................................33



In August 1992, Professor Robert Lenz (Polymer Science and Engineering, University of
Massachusetts, Amherst) and Dr. Graham Swift (Rohm & Haas Co.) met with Paul Herer
of the National Science Foundation (NSF) to discuss possible NSF sponsorship of a
fact-finding tour to assess the status of research and development and applications of
biodegradable polymers and plastics in Japan. The proposed visit would also determine the
status of and prospects for commercial development of biodegradable polymeric materials
in Japan, and explore the potential impact of this field on the global economy.

In November 1993, six U.S. scientists and engineers visited Japan. The team represented
active university, industry, and government research programs, and a wide range of
interests in the field of biodegradable polymers and plastics. The trip, which was
subsidized by grants from the National Science Foundation and twelve companies, enabled
the team members to visit or meet with representatives of 31 universities, government
ministries, institutes, companies, and associations in Japan over a three-week period.
Participating organizations were selected based on their previous contacts with team
members and the recommendations of the Biodegradable Plastics Society (BPS) of Japan.
At the team's request, the BPS contacted and scheduled visits with interested Japanese

This report describes the organizations visited, and examines each organization's primary
activities in the field of biodegradable polymers and plastics.


Japan's highly effective national program on biodegradable plastics is coordinated by the

Biodegradable Plastics Society. Funded by more than 70 companies and 3 government
ministries, the BPS supports research in universities and government institutes throughout
Japan. In close collaboration with the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI),
the BPS helps formulate the goals of the Research Institute of Innovative Technology for
the Earth (RITE), which is the new Japanese national laboratory for the environment.

Japan's national program on biodegradable polymers began with BPS- and MITI-sponsored
fact-finding teams. The teams traveled throughout the industrialized world to build a
knowledge base. Japan used this base to rapidly establish many new approaches to the
technology for synthesizing, testing, evaluating, and disposing of biodegradable polymers
(many of which are produced from renewable resources). A principal goal of Japan’s
program is to develop biodegradable polymers which are competitive technically and
economically with traditional, petroleum-based polymers. The country's progress,
2 Executive Summary

measured by numbers of patents and publications, leaves no doubt that Japan is now the
world leader in this emerging technology.

Biodegradable plastics and polymers are certain to increase in importance as environmental

contamination and waste disposal problems associated with plastics (and related products
from synthetic polymers) become more severe. But the technological strides made by
Japanese scientists are rapidly preempting U.S. scientists' ability to establish a proprietary
position in the technology of biodegradable plastics and polymers. However, the problems
of disposal and contamination shared by the United States and Japan provide a basis for

To establish an effective, bilateral information exchange program with R&D groups in

Japan, one objective of the team of U.S. experts was to initiate collaborations between
industrial, university, and government laboratories in the two countries, as well as
establishing relationships with important policy-setting organizations and ministries,
especially BPS and MITI. The visit would focus on obtaining, organizing, and
disseminating information on important aspects of biodegradable polymer technology,
including: (1) types of polymers and polymeric systems under study; (2) processing and
properties of biodegradable polymers; and (3) test procedures, applications, waste
management of biodegradable products. It was also of interest to obtain information on the
methods for establishing technology cooperation and information transfer between
government, universities, and industry in Japan, and to compare their interactions with
those of equivalent organizations in the United States. The survey would be conducted by
a team of multidisciplinary U.S. researchers active in the field, including polymer chemists,
polymer engineers, and biochemists from university, industry, and government

Drs. Lenz and Swift submitted a formal proposal to NSF on September 1, 1993, and sent
copies to fifteen companies to request supplemental support. NSF approved the proposal
and provided funds for the trip as requested. Twelve companies responded with strong
interest and supplemental financial support for the mission (see Acknowledgments).

All of the individuals named in the NSF proposal agreed to participate except Professor R.
Clinton Fuller, who had to withdraw. Professor Fuller was replaced by Professor Steven
Goodwin of the Department of Microbiology of the University of Massachusetts (see
Members of the Visiting Team, Appendix A). On most days the team was divided into
groups A and B. This way, two organizations could be visited in the morning and two in
the afternoon of each day (see appendices A and B).

Before departing for Japan, the team asked each contributing U.S. company to provide a
list of subjects of particular interest. Based on this and the areas of interest to individual
team members, the team prepared questions to ask during the site visits. These questions
were distributed in advance to all of the participating organizations (see Appendix B).
Robert W. Lenz 3
The tour was timed to coincide with the Third International Scientific Workshop on
Biodegradable Plastics and Polymers, held at the Senri Life Science Center in Osaka from
November 9-11, 1993. The team attended the workshop, which featured talks on
biodegradable plastics and polymers, presented by industry, government, and university
R&D personnel from around the world. Conference topics included biodegradation of
polymers and plastics; environmental degradation of plastics; synthesis and properties of
new biodegradable plastic materials; biodegradation and morphologies of polymer blends;
development of biodegradation test methods; and governmental policy, regulations, and
standards. The workshop included contributions on properties, applications, testing, and
future directions of biodegradables.

Visitation reports were prepared by the team members. Each member was assigned a
company or organization to report on. Each evening, the team members met. The member
responsible for the site (or sites) visited that day gave an oral presentation of what he would
include in his report. When the team returned to the United States, the members wrote
their reports and submitted them to Professor Lenz for editing and compiling. The final
draft of each report was sent to the Japanese host organization for review. Each
organization responded with comments or changes.

A day-long workshop was presented at the NSF building in Arlington, Virginia on

February 28, 1994. All of the sponsoring companies and several government agencies sent
representatives. Each team member presented his report(s) with transparencies.


Japan's national program on biodegradable polymers and plastics, initiated by MITI in

1989, is thriving as it enters the last five of ten years originally allocated to assess
opportunities for Japanese industry. The multifaceted program evaluates new technologies,
testing methods, and potential markets for biodegradables. The program is coordinated by
the Biodegradable Plastics Society, an open membership organization composed
predominantly of industrial representatives. For the first time in Japan, MITI permitted
foreign membership in this national program (others have subsequently been opened to
foreigners). Several overseas companies, including Zeneca and Rohm & Haas, took
advantage of the opportunity to join. Total membership currently stands at over seventy.
The stated goals of the program are as follows:

• to achieve world leadership in biodegradable polymer technology

• to identify commercial opportunities for exploitation of biodegradable polymer
technology at home and overseas

To achieve these goals, the BPS works with other organizations, including academia and
government laboratories in Japan, as well as organizations throughout the world.
4 Executive Summary

The program is based on the respect that exists in Japan for the environment, as well as
concern that every option be considered for improving the environment and preventing
further decline. Biodegradables, only one option under consideration, will compete with
recycling, incineration, pyrolysis, and burial. Biodegradables may never develop into a
major commercial opportunity in Japan. But even if the Japanese focus on the incineration
option for the disposal of waste plastics, the possibility of choosing other disposal methods
will remain. Indeed, biodegradable polymers and plastics may provide greater
opportunities in export markets than within Japan itself.

The approach taken in Japan is a national collaboration directed at understanding the

opportunities and technologies that may be successful. Competition will come later, once
Japan decides to move ahead with the technologies and the various markets. It is currently
anticipated that biodegradables will satisfy only certain special market segments.
Biodegradable plastics could satisfy such niche markets as fast-food wrappers, agricultural
films, personal hygiene products, and marine and freshwater applications. Water-soluble
polymers could achieve much broader acceptance as expectations rise that the
biodegradability of these water-soluble polymers, which are disposed of into the
environment, will be mandated in a few years.

The team saw no major new technology breakthroughs. As is the case for U.S. researchers,
Japanese scientists and engineers are focusing on the use of natural renewable resources,
synthetic polymers, and bacterially-produced polymers such as polyhydroxyalkanoates,
poly(amino acids), and polysaccharides. The major polymers receiving attention are the
Zeneca PHBV Biopol®, poly(lactic acid) or PLA from several sources, polycaprolactone,
and the new synthetic polyester Bionolle®, from Showa High Polymer. Each of these has
one or more major deficiencies that inhibit their acceptance for large-scale applications.
These deficiencies include high price (with little expectation of a substantial decrease in the
near future), low melting temperature, poor tensile properties at elevated temperatures,
poor solvent resistance, hydrolytic instability, insufficient mechanical properties of films
and molded plastics, and various combinations of these factors, all of which affect
acceptance of the polymers in specific applications.

A major conclusion of the team is that biodegradable polymer technology is materials

limited. That is, the technological development of biodegradable polymers is restricted
presently by the range of these polymers that can fulfill processing and property
requirements for many applications in which biodegradability would be an important
materials property.

The level of testing and test protocol development is not as advanced in Japan as in the
United States. This observation is not surprising since Japan has only recently focused
attention on this area. The country is now moving rapidly to develop its own tests; recently
a modification of the MITI biodegradation test for organic materials was accepted as an
International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard. The test, although similar to
one developed at the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), is only for
screening. Nevertheless, this is a beginning.
Robert W. Lenz 5
Acceptance of biodegradable polymers will depend on four unknowns: (1) customer
response to costs that are considerably higher than conventional polymers; (2) possible
legislation (particularly in water-soluble polymers); (3) the achievement of total
biodegradability; and (4) the development of an infrastructure to collect, accept, and
process biodegradable polymers as a generally available option for waste disposal. From
the team's discussions, a reasonable estimate of achievable or needed selling costs would
be two to four times the cost of the polymer or plastic being replaced. This range
represents the perceived value of the application plus hidden factors such as savings on
recovery, which could be included in the estimate of the selling cost acceptability.
Legislation is considered likely in water-solubles and possible in disposable plastics,
depending on the source. Total biodegradation, clearly demonstrated in one or more
environments, is generally the only acceptable situation in Japan.

Until now, the concept of an infrastructure for disposal of biodegradable plastics and
polymers has received minimal attention in Japan. The major thrust has been in the area of
polymer development. This lack of infrastructure is probably a practical matter rather than
an oversight: attention to disposal problems will follow successful polymer developments.
The option of composting is beginning to receive some attention, particularly outside the
large cities, where there always has been farm waste composting. Whether this will lead to
accepting plastic waste for composting is far from clear. However, a few entrepreneurs are
building and selling home composters to capitalize on the sentiments of composting

Although Japan is very active in biodegradable polymer and plastic research, the country
has not yet decided to move ahead with the technology at home or abroad. The decision to
do so probably will not be made until late in this decade.

At this time, the team believes that there is no major gap between the United States and
Japan in the research aspects of biodegradable polymers. But if Japan begins to exploit the
technology commercially, the country will have a better national program in place to
promote its acceptance.

The advantages of the Japanese system for developing technology have been discussed
many times in recent years. Development of biodegradable polymer technology in Japan
over the past five years is typical of the country's approach. Before 1988, only two
Japanese laboratories were involved in biodegradable polymers at the international level.
These were the laboratories of Professor Yoshito Ikeda (in biomedical polymers) at Kyoto
University and Dr. Yutaka Tokiwa at the National Institute of Bioscience and Human
Technology, Tsukuba.

After 1988, when the Biochemical Industry Division became a separate unit in the Basic
Industries Bureau of MITI, a national policy was established to:

• accelerate research and development

• provide facilities for creative research
6 Executive Summary

• develop basic systems

• promote regional development and exchange
• improve safety measures and information exchange activity
• promote international exchange

As a result, the Japan Bioindustry Association and the Biodegradable Plastics Society were
established to make policy, distribute funds, promote information exchange, and
coordinate testing. Through various channels, a group of eight- to ten-year projects were

Key factors in the Japanese approach to technology development are: (1) intellectual
property generally belongs to the industry as a result of cooperative research efforts, in
which researchers carry out work at academic and government institutes; (2) information is
shared more freely among academic, governmental, and industrial laboratories; (3) the
scientists concentrate on carefully selected and sometimes narrowly-defined research
topics; and (4) the project coordinators redefine goals during annual reviews, but they do
not reduce funding prematurely. The advantages that Japanese scientists and engineers
have over their U.S. counterparts are: (1) they work together to determine the value of
solving a problem, and (2) they share information more readily, if not totally.

Academic and governmental institutes are mainly funded by ministries. Professors, once
established, do not have to spend time seeking funds, and students and researchers are
supported by universities and institutes. In that respect, they are much more efficient in
devoting their energies to research, despite the fact that facilities at many of these
universities are not up to date. Typically, basic research starts at university and
governmental laboratories, and development and processing are carried out at industry
laboratories, which eventually produce new products. Tax incentives, grants, and low-
interest loans encourage the development of new technology.

Industrial incentives seem to come from consumer products industries, which feel pressure
from the public. Japan is a more environmentally sensitive country than most of the
developed nations. For this reason, although incineration for energy is and continues to be
a primary means of waste management for Japan, biodegradation is considered to be a very
desirable future option.
Robert W. Lenz 7

The twelve companies that responded favorably to the request for funds to supplement the
NSF grant were:

Eastman Chemical Co.

Gillette Co.
International Specialty Products
Johnson & Johnson
Kimberly Clark Corp.
Rohm & Haas Co.
Tambrands Inc.
United States Surgical Corp.
Zeneca BioProducts

The members of the fact-finding mission are also especially grateful to two of their
Japanese hosts, Kazuhiko Fukuda of the Biodegradable Plastics Society (Dowa Building
7F, 5-10-5 Shimbashi Minato-ku, Tokyo 105), and Dr. Kyugo Tanaka of Rohm & Haas,
Japan, K.K. Mr. Fukuda organized the team's schedule and made all of the arrangements
for the site visits. Dr. Tanaka met with the team members each morning of the tour to
provide directions and other information needed for the site visits. Without the exceptional
dedication and commitment of these two men, the tour would have been very difficult to
carry out and much less effective. Since the visit, Dr. Tanaka has retired from Rohm &
Haas, Japan, and has established a consulting company, EMS Consultants Co. (Midori-ku,
Yokohama, 227 Japan, FAX: 011081-45-961-9508, E-mail: 722061.435@compuserve.
com; also see Reports of Organizations), which offers services and a newsletter in the field
of biodegradable polymers and plastics.
8 Executive Summary


This section contains condensed reports on the government ministries and institutes,
universities, companies, and societies visited. (More extensive reports were prepared that
contain background information and brief descriptions of each organization's current
interests and research programs on biodegradable polymers. Information on cooperative
programs and names and addresses of contact persons, where appropriate and available,
also were included. These full reports may be published by the Department of Commerce
in the future.) See the Table of Contents for a full listing of these sites.



Aicello is a private company founded in 1933 as a cellophane manufacturer with current

major products in high performance packagings for pharmaceuticals, fine chemicals,
electronics, agriculture, and consumer goods. Annual sales in 1992 were $130 million.
Among its 460 employees is a permanent research and development staff of 50 individuals.
The company is adding 40 people per year, while losing 10 per year to retirement, resulting
in a net gain of 30 people per year. Research and development accounts for ~4% of total
annual sales.


• Aicello is one of the original members of both the Biodegradable Plastics Society and
the PVOH associations. It uses soil burial and MITI slurry tests for biodegradation.
• The company will not claim biodegradability until it is satisfied with the testing results.



Ajinomoto has decided not to actively pursue internal research and development on
biodegradable packaging materials. However, the company has joined the Biodegradable
Plastics Society to monitor developments in this area. The company is closely monitoring
changes in society, government, and consumers to be in a position to move into
biodegradable packaging when the situation warrants. The company also suggested that
petroleum-based polymers may be preferable to renewable resource-based polymers
because the price of petroleum-based products may be more stable and the quality of the
10 Reports on Organizations, Companies, and Ministries

products more consistent. It was thought that poly(lactic acid) might be a good
compromise in this regard.


• Ajinomoto is not actively pursuing internal research and development into

biodegradable packaging.
• The company is closely monitoring developments in this area, and will test
biodegradable packaging materials as they become commercially available.



The meeting with the Biodegradable Plastics Society of Japan was attended by every team
member and many of the BPS member companies' representatives. This informal
“welcome to Japan” meeting contained only a few discussion points. Professor Lenz
thanked the BPS for its help in organizing the NSF team's visit and establishing its itinerary
in Japan.

The major accomplishments at the meeting were: an update from Dr. Hideo Sawada of the
Technology Committee of the BPS (Dowa Building 7F, 5-10-5 Shimbashi Minato-ku,
Tokyo 105); open discussions on composting and anticipated market growth for
biodegradable polymers; and information on the relationships between all major
committees and government- supported organizations involved in funding research into
biodegradables in Japan.

Dr. Sawada gave an update on the soil burial of plastics to assess how soil condition affects
biodegradation. Although the study has almost been completed, no clear conclusions have
been established. However, it is apparent that biodegradable plastics will break down at
rates dependent on soil conditions. The control in the series, polyethylene, shows no
tendency to biodegrade under any of the soil conditions. On the subject of biodegradation
testing protocols, Japan has proposed and ISO has accepted the MITI test for
biodegradation as an international standard. There will be a meeting of ISO in Tokyo in
September 1994 hosted by the Japan Plastics Industry Federation. BPS has developed a
definition for biodegradability consistent with that of the American Society for Testing and

Compost was discussed from the perspective of the disposal of biodegradable polymers in
Japan. The BPS members acknowledged that composting has long been used by farmers
for agricultural waste, but were not sure how the disposal of plastics would occur.
However, BPS members indicated that at the 1994 Winter Olympic Games in Norway, all
food containers and implements would be manufactured from biodegradable plastic and
then composted to assess the effectiveness of this disposal method.
Robert W. Lenz 11
There was no expectation on the part of BPS members that biodegradables would represent
anything but a niche market in the plastics area. They see only a market of 15 X 10(9) yen
by the end of the century, an amount which is about equivalent to $150 million at the
current rate of exchange.


• The Biodegradable Plastics Society is the industrial hub of biodegradable plastics

research in Japan, integrating and coordinating most of the research in academia,
industry, and government research centers.
• BPS is developing standards and anticipates that the modified MITI test for
biodegradation will be accepted by ISO.
• The organization is assessing technology and market opportunities so that Japan will be
in a position to dominate world markets when the technology is adopted.
• BPS is placing strong emphasis on niche markets, such as fishing nets, fishing line,
agricultural film, and disposable packaging.
• The organization currently sees no way to effectively dispose of biodegradables, but is
encouraging the development of a composting infrastructure in Japan.



Dai Nippon Printing Co., Ltd. has a Central Research Institute (CRI), six divisional
laboratories, an engineering laboratory, and an Image and Information Research
Laboratory. The company also has a software division and a division in Denmark for the
manufacture of TV projection screens. The division laboratories are concerned with the
development of new processes, new materials, and new machines for: (1) packaging
materials, (2) information media, (3) business forms, (4) materials development, and (5)
microprocessing. New research and development programs are initiated on the basis of
market needs that can be supplied by technologies available in one of the company's

The Central Research Institute has approximately 200 people, and is responsible for
initiating and developing technologies for new products. CRI has R&D programs on: (1)
electronic display devices; (2) optoelectronics; (3) information imaging; (4) biochemistry
(blood test strips for sugar and proteins); (5) functional materials and process innovation;
and (6) analysis.
12 Reports on Organizations, Companies, and Ministries


• Dai Nippon has two national programs on biodegradable plastics. The first, conducted
in conjunction with the Biodegradable Plastics Society, is for developing standard
methods for measuring biodegradation. The second is with the ECOPACK
Association, and is for the development of biodegradable packing materials for snack
foods, frozen foods, and dairy products.
• The company has several other internal projects on the evaluation of melt processable
biodegradable polymers and polymer blends for consumer products.
• At the time of the site visit, because of price/property considerations, the company
believed that only Bionolle and polycaprolactone were viable candidates for
applications requiring melt processable materials.


Eco-Materials and Systems Consultants Company (EMS) is a newly formed consultancy in

Japan that offers services in the field of biodegradable polymers and plastics. The founder,
Dr. Kyugo Tanaka, is a recently-retired research manager from Rohm & Haas, Japan, and
has wide experience in this field. Dr. Tanaka has participated in symposia in Japan and
throughout the world, and is very familiar with all aspects of this emerging technology. He
recently assisted in organizing an NSF-sponsored visit of a group of American scientists to
Japan. Services provided by EMS include a biweekly newsletter, Japan Eco-Science and
Technology News; detailed reviews on special topics; technology assessments; legislative
issues in Japan; technology searches; academic introductions; translations; and assistance
with travel arrangements in Japan.

References are available on request. For further information, please contact Dr. Kyugo
Tanaka at 1-5-51 Tachibanadai, Midori-ku, Yokohama, 227 Japan, FAX: 011-81-
45-961-9508, E-mail:



The Institute of Physical and Chemical Research or RIKEN is the central laboratory of
Japan and collaborates with the Imperial University System. RIKEN is a nonprofit
research institute that is supported by the government's Science and Technology Agency.
The annual budget is $200 million, of which 90.3% comes from the government. The on-
campus staff consists of 1,300 researchers, including 300 scientists and 200 engineers and
technicians. The 1,600 visiting scientists include 100 foreign postdoctoral fellows, 100
Japanese postdoctoral fellows, 140 researchers from Japanese companies, and 400
Robert W. Lenz 13
graduate students. Companies pay 30% overhead to support their visiting scientists, and
the government pays 10% overhead to support their visiting scientists.


• No commercial products from the food packaging project are on the horizon.
• No large-scale testing of biodegradable materials for packaging is underway in Japan.
• No standardized waste management policy has been developed at the national level by
the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
• Dr. Yoshiharu Doi, who is associated with almost every biodegradable polymer project
in Japan, has the best-equipped laboratory for the study of biodegradable polymers in
the world.
• RIKEN has foreign scientists managing laboratories.



Japan Corn Starch Co., Ltd. (JCS) is a family-owned business that has been in operation
since 1867. Headquartered in Nagoya, JCS currently has a current staff of about 500
persons. In Kimura, the company maintains the most advanced wet milling plant in Japan.

The plant processes 500,000 metric tons of corn starch per year. In addition, JCS operates
a starch modification plant. The company is a major supplier of sweeteners for the food
industry; its corn starch, corn oil, and by-products are used in the production of paper,
textiles, adhesives, building materials, and consumer products.


• Japan Corn Starch is the primary supplier of corn starch in Japan.

• JCS has a very active collaboration with Michigan Biotechnology Institute to develop
starch derivatives.
• The company's philosophy in the biodegradable polymer field is motivated by the
development of new materials with starch, and is not based on replacing existing
materials with biodegradable polymers.
• JCS wants to be well-positioned if government regulations provide incentives for using
biodegradable polymers. Otherwise, the company feels that the current customer
demand for these types of materials is short term.
14 Reports on Organizations, Companies, and Ministries



With more than 550 products, Kao Corporation is the largest manufacturer of household
products in Japan. Founded in 1887, the consumer-oriented company has established a
reputation as a quality producer of chemicals, including fatty chemicals, edible oils,
detergents, household products, cosmetics, aural products, sanitary products, and food
additives. Kao is also a leader in the manufacture of floppy disks and other
communication/information technologies. The corporation, which is committed to
bringing quality products to consumers around the world, has operations in twenty-five
countries in Asia, North America, and Europe.

Kao Corporation maintains a commitment to service, quality, and consumer satisfaction

through the implementation of three fundamental principles:

Commitment to consumers, who are Kao's most valued asset, and their satisfaction
is Kao's primary goal. A commitment to providing consumers with useful
innovative products that answer actual needs guides all of Kao's corporate

Equality and inherent dignity of all people is Kao's stressed corporate philosophy.
The company emphasizes open communication and the sharing of ideas to improve
performance to better serve the consumer.

Wisdom is gained through experience and maintained through continuing effort.

Kao pays close attention to the increasingly diverse market to gain a clearer
understanding of consumer needs and how to satisfy them.

Kao is consumer-oriented and environmentally conscious (the company is well-versed in

the requirements for the environmental biodegradation of detergent ingredients). The
corporation has thoroughly researched the impact of the environmental issues surrounding
its large-volume packaging use and consumer products. Regarding its near-term goals in
the area of the waste-management of plastic and polymers, Kao has concluded the

• Kao does not anticipate introducing biodegradable packaging in the near term because
of deficiencies in properties and costs relative to currently used plastics.

• The company's standards are high for accepting biodegradable polymers, that is, total
biodegradability at costs very close to current plastics and polymers. Until this is
achieved, Kao will use alternative approaches to lighten the environmental load, such
as recycling, smaller and reusable containers, lighter bottles, and so forth.
Robert W. Lenz 15

• Kao does not anticipate the introduction of biodegradable polymers, water-solubles or

plastics, in the near future based on cost and performance deficiencies.
• Total, accountable biodegradation is the only acceptable position to Kao.
• The company does not have and will not have research programs on biodegradable
polymers because it believes that no cost-effective solution is apparent. However, the
company would readily adopt a material meeting its requirements, which are
performance equivalence at cost similar to current polymers.



Keio University is one of the largest private universities in Japan. Professor Shuichi
Matsumura of the Applied Chemistry Department is an expert on water-soluble polymers.
There are six graduate students and six undergraduate students in his laboratory. Total
research funds are ~$80,000 per year. He does not pay for salary and overhead, an amount
equivalent to $400,000 at an American institution. The laboratory is extremely well
equipped. In addition to standard polymer and organic chemistry research equipment, it
also has BOD, total oxygen demand (TOD), and other equipment for fermentation and
biodegradation studies.


• Keio University produces very basic and elegant work in water-soluble biodegradable
• Dr. Matsumura's laboratory studies the mechanisms of biodegradation of water soluble
• Dr. Matsumura uses elegant synthesis to prepare materials for studying the effects of
molecular weight, tacticity, and functional groups.
• The laboratory uses UCED, gas permeation chromatography.
• weight loss, and CO2 production by gas chromatography to follow biodegradation.



Kirin Brewery carries out biodegradable testing both on site and in collaboration with
suppliers. On-site facilities include CO2 production from soil microcosms. Kirin is also
16 Reports on Organizations, Companies, and Ministries

hoping to get Bionolle from Showa High Polymer for testing, but has not received any
material to date. The company, which is heavily involved in primary and secondary food
packaging, would like to use a renewable resource rather than a petroleum-based source for
the production of packaging materials.


• Kirin expects poly(lactic acid) to be the same price as poly(ethylene terephthalate), or

PET. The company will replace PET with PLA if it has the required material
• The company appears to be committed to using recyclable or biodegradable materials
for packaging. Kirin has stopped development work with new materials because the
company believes that it is too far behind. However, the company continues to work
closely with potential suppliers.



The Center for Biomedical Engineering at Kyoto University is the largest research center
on materials for biomedical uses in Japan. Of the eight faculty members who are
professors, there are two in polymer science, two in biomechanics, three in
surgery/dentistry, and one in engineering. One associate professor and one assistant
professor work with Professor Y. Ikeda, who is the former head of the center. There are
forty graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and researchers at the center. Funding, which
is funneled through the university, comes from the Ministry of Education and various
industries. The center is capable of carrying out basic materials research, processing, in
vitro and in vivo testing (with 100 dogs), and human clinical testing at the university
hospital. The center can carry out vertical research through testing in a manner few
institutes in the world can match.


• Professor Ikeda's group covers fundamental polymer synthesis, material processing,

biocompatibility evaluation, and in vitro as well as in vivo testing of implants and drug
• It is the most comprehensive and efficient group for biomaterials in Japan and in the
• Professor Ikeda is the most important researcher and educator in the biomaterials field
in Japan.
Robert W. Lenz 17
• Professor Ikeda's group carries out both in vitro and in vivo biocompatibility and
degradation studies with quantitative techniques such as weight loss, isotopic labeling,
changes in physical properties, and microscopy.



Although the laboratory at the Faculty of Agriculture tests the biodegradability of

materials, it appears that most of its products are prepared with an emphasis on
incineration as the final disposal method. The laboratory's focus seems to be on the
reduction of ash through the use of natural materials.


• Kyoto University is studying novel applications for wood derivative and cellulose
derivative products.
• The university has an interest in biodegradation, but its emphasis is on ash reduction
during incineration.
• Kyoto University is studying biodegradable polymers from renewable resources used in
blends with synthetic polymers to reduce incineration residues.



The Department of Polymer Science and Engineering at Kyoto Institute of Technology has
17 professors. Each professor's research group has one associate and one assistant
professor. The department accepts approximately 150 undergraduate students and 50 to 60
graduate students per year. Professor Yoshiharu Kimura usually has 7 graduate students (5
in MS degree programs and 2 in Ph.D. programs) and 11 undergraduates in his research
group. The MS and Ph.D. programs are separate academic programs with separate
curricula. The MS is a two-year program; the Ph.D. is a three-year program. The
department usually graduates 5 to 10 Ph.D.s, 50 MS students, and 100 undergraduates per
year. All receive offers for positions in industry.

The Department of Chemistry and Materials Technology accepts 145 undergraduates, 50

MS students, and 8 to 10 Ph.D. students per year. Professor Nariyoshi Kawabata has 9
undergraduates, 9 MS students, and 3 Ph.D. students in his research group.
18 Reports on Organizations, Companies, and Ministries


• The Polymer Science and Engineering Department graduates the largest number of
students in that field in Japan at all levels (BS, MS, and Ph.D.). It must also be one of
the largest academic programs in the world in the polymer field.
• Professor Kimura's laboratory has been able to prepare high molecular weight
poly(lactic acid) by the direct polyesterification of L-lactic acid.



The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) funds programs on

biodegradable polymers, including a feasibility study entitled “Research for Development
of Fishing Gear Utilizing Biodegradable Plastics.” This research program is in its first year
of a five-year effort. The program supports work at Hyogo Prefectural Fisheries Lab (a
government laboratory established by the regional Prefecture Office) and at Dr. Y. Doi’s
RIKEN laboratory. Dr. Doi serves primarily as a consultant to this program.

The goals of the program are to explore products for sports fishing line and fishing nets
(for cultivation of seaweed and off-shore fishing). Total funding for the program is about
$110 thousand per year. In addition, the ministry funds a project entitled “R&D for Food
Packaging Friendly to the Environment.” This effort supports nine projects at a total of
about $2 million per year. Dr. Doi is also an advisor to this project.


• MAFF programs focus on commercial products for the marine industry.

• MAFF has a five-year feasibility study in progress for marine applications, but has no
legal authority to implement regulations for fishing gear.
• While cost is a major issue for commercial use, this may not be the case for fishing
line. Consequently, this area could provide a good niche for the use of biodegradable
• No established position on biodegradation testing was discussed by the staff. Currently,
only tensile strength is used to assess material performance.
• Legislation has been passed to comply with MARPOL so that all plastics are returned
to shore and not disposed of overboard.
Robert W. Lenz 19


MITI has approximately 300 divisions and 10 bureaus. It has been described as an
organization with many pyramids in its structure. The division administrators do not
closely oversee ongoing programs. Instead, they seem more concerned with future
directions for their programs. In most cases MITI provides five to ten years of assured
funding for their active programs, and makes low-interest loans available for the
commercial development of the products from those programs.


• Programs funded by MITI are assured funding for five to ten years in general.
• MITI assigned the administration, management, and evaluation of the program on their
specific projects to nonprofit organizations such as Japan Biotechnology Association
and NEDO. MITI discusses basic policies on the technical aspects of the program with
those organizations.



The Mitsubishi Petrochemical Co. (MPC) has principal research centers at Yokkaichi and
at Tsukuba. The former is devoted to market-oriented research and the latter to long-term
basic research, including biotechnology. The company had sales of approximately $3.7
billion dollars in 1992 in five major areas: (1) industrial chemicals (45%); (2) plastics
(45%); (3) fine chemicals (e.g., components of consumer products); (4) electronic
components; and (5) bio-related products (especially L-aspartic acid, fungicides, and amino
acids). Their plastic products are of three principal types: (1) polyolefins, especially
polypropylene; low-density, linear low-density, and high-density polyethylene; and
ethylene-vinyl acetate copolymers; (2) specialty polymers, including propylene-based
thermoplastic elastomers, poly(acrylic acid), polymers for adhesives, and conducting
polymers; and (3) engineering plastics, especially fiber-reinforced PET and poly(phenylene
ether)-nylon blends.

The major market area for MPC plastics is in the company's polyolefins films (more than
50% of MPC's polyethylenes are sold as films). MPC has a particularly strong capability
for producing cast films and oriented films. A large market for the company's PE films is
in greenhouse covers. The company also has substantial sales in Japan of PE films for
nondegradable, mulch film applications. Japanese farms are relatively small, so it is not
too inconvenient for them to remove the mulch films after the growth season and dispose
of them in landfills or by incineration. MPC has evaluated photodegradable films for that
purpose. However, such materials were found to be unsuitable because pieces of the
20 Reports on Organizations, Companies, and Ministries

disintegrated film remained in the soil and were considered to be an environmental hazard.
The company takes the same view of PE films, which have prooxidants designed to
degrade by oxidation. MPC agrees that biodegradable mulch films would be very
desirable if they had acceptable mechanical properties and did not cost substantially more
than normal PE films. The company estimates that a product that was up to 50% more in
price than current nondegradable mulch films would be acceptable to the farmers because
of the saving on labor costs.


• There has been a steady and substantial increase in the use of biodegradable polymers
over the past several years, ever since this area was recognized as one of national
importance. Mitsubishi Petrochemical Co. is very optimistic about future development
of commercial products based on biodegradable polymers.
• MPC primarily produces polymers. The company takes the position that, to protect its
customer relationships and future markets, it must become proficient in processing and
converting biodegradable polymers for consumer products, whether or not it produces
such polymers.



Mitsui Toatsu is a chemical company with $4.3 billion in sales in 1993. Polypropylene
(PP), polystyrene (PS), and poly(vinyl chlorine) (or PVC) are the company's major
products in the commodity sector. The team visited the company's Life Sciences
Department. The six groups in the Life Sciences Department are pharmaceuticals,
agrochemicals, plant biotechnology, biotechnology, amino acids, and biodegradable
polymers. The task group was introduced to the company through the company's
brochures and descriptions of the products and research.


• Mitsui Toatsu is a large chemical company that plans to become a raw materials
supplier in biodegradable polymers. The company currently manufactures two types of
biodegradable polymers for medical applications: polyglycolic acid and glycolic-lactic
acid copolymers.
• Mitsui Toatsu has patented a novel process to polymerize lactic acid through direct
condensation polymerization to obtain high molecular weight poly(lactic acid).
• The company plans to build a plant between 1995 and 1998 to produce 1,000 to 10,000
tons per year of poly(lactic acid).
Robert W. Lenz 21
• Mitsui Toatsu believes that the introduction of legislation to mandate the use of
biodegradable polymers would be a key factor for expanding the market.



The focus in the School of Agricultural Sciences of Nagoya University is on the study of
the utilization of natural products. Dr. Masahiko Okada's group consists of one associate
professor, two assistant professors, one secretary, one doctoral student, ten master's degree
students, and five undergraduate students. Dr. Okada obtains funding from the Ministry of
Education through the university, and an equivalent amount from companies. Some
funding also comes from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) and
private organizations and foundations to which proposals for grants are submitted. In the
case of funding support from companies, the company obtains patent rights to inventions.
The major focus of Dr. Okada's research is on synthetic polymer chemistry approaches to
novel polymers for medical applications.

Dr. H. Kimura's group consists of an associate professor, one assistant professor, one
doctoral student, seven master's degree students, seven undergraduate students, and four
foreign research associates or doctoral students (one from France, two from China, and one
from Korea). His funding comes from four main sources: (1) the Ministry of Education,
which provides core government funding to the university (no proposals are required); (2)
proposals submitted to the Ministry of Education; (3) private foundations to which
proposals are submitted; and (4) the Biodegradable Polymer Society and related
associations and companies.


• Extensive synthetic chemistry programs for the preparation of new

biodegradable/hydrolyzable polymers are underway.
• Microbial ecology assessments of biodegradable polymers are in process.
• Some studies are carried out in activated sludge and soils, some with recovery of
carbon dioxide, and others with hydrolysis.
• The analysis of field samples is based on film exposures in active natural
22 Reports on Organizations, Companies, and Ministries



Nippon Gohsei, founded in 1927, is a producer of a variety of synthetic chemicals,

including poly(vinyl alcohol) (or PVA) and ethylene-vinyl acetate copolymers. The
company's PVA manufacturing capacity is the second largest in the world at approximately
6,000 tons per month, and includes a 30% share of the Japanese market. The company
employs approximately 1,100 people, 130 of whom are at the R&D laboratory in Osaka.
Nippon Gohsei maintains three production facilities in Japan. PVA is used in textiles,
paper processing, emulsifiers, sizing, and adhesives.


• Nippon Gohsei is involved in a joint effort with Novamont to develop and market
starch blends.
• The company is a major producer of PVA for biodegradable materials.
• PVA used in textile sizing and other applications is currently treated in an activated
sludge system. The company believes that it is completely biodegradable under these
• Nippon Gohsei has already succeeded in isolating specific microorganisms and
enzymes involved in this process,* while they use the MITI method as a novel one to
assess biodegradation (activated sludge and BOD).



Research spending at Nippon Shokubai (NS) is about 6% of sales, that is, approximately
$80 million per year. Over 600 employees, comprising 25% of the total company
employment, are engaged in research work.

The company's credo is "to create technology for better lives." This is embodied in a
concept called TechnoAmenity, which is aimed at making peoples lives healthier and
happier through technological innovation by solving environmental problems such as acid
rain, ozone depletion, rain forest losses, desertification, and global warming.

Interest in biodegradable polymers is related to the pressure that the company is feeling
from its customers in the water-soluble and super-absorbent polymers. The company
expects that those polymers will eventually have to be biodegradable, and that legislation
will be introduced in Japan mandating the biodegradability of some water-soluble

Nishikawa, H., and Fujita, Y. Chem. Econ. Eng. Rev., 7 (4),33 (1975).
Robert W. Lenz 23
polymers. Nippon Shokubai bases this position on the April 1994 joint statement in Tokyo
from MITI and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)
that water-soluble polymers represent a potential environmental problem. The joint
statement is considered a strong indication of impending MITI requirements and control.

In addition to programs in the chemical synthesis of biodegradable water-soluble polymers,

the company is also embracing biotechnology to clean waste streams before release into
the environment.


• Nippon Shokubai expects legislation mandating biodegradable water-soluble polymers

to be initiated by MITI in the future.
• The company has twenty or more people working in biodegradable polymers, with
outside contributions.
• Total biodegradability is the company's stated goal.
• The company does not expect the standard vinyl polymerization to form water-soluble
polymers, that is, acrylics to meet the requirements for biodegradation. Nippon
Shokubai is moving toward new approaches to explore synthetic polymers that have a
natural-type structure, either wholly or in part.




The Osaka National Research Institute receives its budget from MITI and accepts no funds
from industry. The institute's 1993 operating budget was $29.2 million. There are 207
permanent staff, of whom 159 are researchers. Fifty-nine percent of the budget is allocated
to salaries and 41% to research expenses. The institute has received 1,000 patents, of
which 70 have been used in commercial applications. Approximately 70 students are sent
from universities to receive training at the institute.


• Osaka National Research Institute participates in large-scale national projects with

long-term funding (e.g., Energy Conservation Technology, Moonlight project; New
Energy Technology, Sunshine project; and Global Environment Technology).
• More than 40% of the institute's budget goes directly to research expenses.
24 Reports on Organizations, Companies, and Ministries



The Plastics Waste Management Institute (PWMI) was founded in 1971 as the plastics
industry's response to local governments' claims that the increase of plastics was a cause of
trouble. PWMI currently receives $5 million per year from thirty petrochemical companies
and $400,000 per year from MITI. PWMI employs twenty-one staff engineers who
provide research and development in plastics waste recycling, pyrolysis, and incineration,
and also provide surveys and public relations.


• PWMI is supported by thirty petrochemical companies and MITI, which encourage

R&D efforts that enable adequate disposal and recycling of waste plastics. As such,
the institute's efforts are primarily focused on the recycling and incineration of waste
• The biodegradation position of PWMI was very negative. The company favors
recycling and thermal recycling.



Shimadzu, founded in 1875, employs approximately 4,300 persons. The company had
1992 sales of approximately $1.3 billion. Shimadzu's headquarters are in Kyoto. The
company also has two factories in Kyoto; sales and marketing branch offices throughout
Japan; overseas offices in Egypt, China, and Russia; and overseas subsidiaries in the
United States, Germany, England, Austria, Italy, Singapore, Australia, and Brazil. The
Bio-Applications Center is located in Tokyo. There are four main divisions in the
company: Analytical Instruments, Medical Equipment, Aircraft Equipment, and Industrial
Machinery. Virtually all of the company's focus is on analytical equipment and related test
and evaluation systems. Shimadzu exports approximately 22-25% of its total sales.


• Production of poly(lactic acid) is a new direction for the company; commercial

production is planned for 1994.
• Shimadzu has developed a lactic acid fermentation process and is collaborating with
Mitsubishi Plastics Ltd. to develop poly-L-lactic acid.
• The company has begun construction of a pilot plant in Ohtsu City with a 100 ton per
year capacity. Shimadzu anticipates that the plant will be fully operational by next
Robert W. Lenz 25
summer. If the pilot scale plant is successful and if the markets are favorable, the
company has further plans to scale up to 1,000 tons per year in two to three years.
• The company plans to make and sell resin. Customers will generate the products.



Showa is a major Japanese producer of unsaturated polyesters, emulsions, and phenolics,

with 1993 sales in excess of $261 million. The company is a member of the Showa Denko
group, which also owns Showa Denko, K.K., a multiline chemical company. It is
producing Bionolle® polyesters chains extended with diisocyanate.


• Bionolle is one of the most developed biodegradable synthetic polymers since

polycaprolactone (PCL).
• Showa tested Bionolle in Japan and Belgium with soil, active sludge, and suspended
soil in water.
• Showa representatives think Bionolle is better than PE for incineration since it has
lower BTUs.



Taisei Corporation, primarily a building construction and engineering company, had $13.2
billion in sales in 1993. The biotechnology team of Taisei was formed seven years ago and
is divided into two groups: plants and bioreactors. The plant group is currently working on
turf grass and salt tolerance of rice for sea water irrigation. The bioreactor group is
currently working on developing bioreactors for wastewater treatment/purification.


• The Taisei Corporation, which is a building construction and engineering company, is

working on a recovery system for production of microbially-produced polyester from
wastewater treatment facilities. Poly(ß-hydroxybutyrate), or PHB, was accumulated in
amounts up to 27% by weight by batch culture under anaerobic conditions utilizing
thermochemically liquefied sludge.
• Taisei's system is being scaled up to a semibatch culture to produce PHB using
activated sludge and excess sludge as carbon sources at wastewater treatment facilities.
26 Reports on Organizations, Companies, and Ministries



Tokyo Institute of Technology is primarily a graduate school with no postdoctoral

program. The Research Laboratory of Resources Utilization is headed by Professor
Takeshi Endo. The laboratory consists of thirteen divisions, each with an associate
professor and two research associates. The research areas in the laboratory include
biochemistry, polymer chemistry, organic-metal complexes, catalysts, polymer processing,
and other topics. The primary topics covered in the team's discussions included the
synthesis of biodegradable polymers, recycling of organic wastes into useful materials, and
chemical recycling of polymeric materials. The institute's representatives discussed
mechanisms available to obtain research support at the institute. They said that in general,
funding was considered difficult to obtain. Some companies send research staff to the
institute. However, most of these types of exchange occur based on personnel contacts
between the companies and the professor. The company obtains all rights to patents that
may derive from the joint research.


• The Tokyo Institute of Technology is evaluating novel synthetic chemistry approaches

to the preparation of new biodegradable polymers.
• Enzyme hydrolysis is the primary research tool used to assess biodegradability.



The Toppan Printing Company is a large manufacturer of food packaging. Founded in

1990, this publicly-traded company had 1993 net sales of $10 billion. Its main divisions
are General Printing and Electronics (48%), Packaging (27%), Publications and Printing
(20%), and Scientific Printing (4%). The current products that the Packaging Division
manufactures are 65% for food uses, 20% for medical and cosmetics uses, and 15% for
other uses. The products range from PET bottles to milk cartons to chip bags and snack
packaging. Except for the PET bottles, the company wants to make all of its packaging


• Toppan is developing food packaging using the currently available biodegradable

• Toppan Printing Company has developed a coextrusion process for coating paperboard
(such as containers and cups) by using Biopol®, which consists of a series of
Robert W. Lenz 27
poly(3-hydroxybutyrate-co-3-hydroxyvalerate) copolymers that are biodegradable
• Toppan wants to convert all of its plastics packaging, except PET bottles, to
biodegradable materials. However, since Toppan Printing is not a manufacturing
company, it depends on other companies to provide those materials.
• Within the next ten years, the company's research goal is to find a material that
performs as well as the current packaging material for less than $2.50/lb.
• Toppan takes the view that the price is more important than whether the material is
based on renewable resources or petrochemicals.
• The application areas projected for biodegradable polymers are for all of the packaging
that Toppan produces, with the exception of PET soda bottles.




The National Institute of Bioscience and Human Technology (NIBHT) has an annual
budget of approximately $13.7 million. The institute has a permanent staff of 220, of
whom 185 are involved in research. The National Institute of Materials and Chemical
Research has an annual budget of $59 million. Of the permanent staff of 419, 349 are
engaged in research. The biodegradation research includes poly(ß-hydroxybutyrate)
production and microbial degradation, production of derivatized starches, and blend yarns
of PCL and conventional plastics, with emphasis on biodisintegration after biodegradation.


• NIBHT has one of the principal microbiology programs involved with biodegradables
in Japan.
• The Tsukuba Research Center is well positioned to become a focus for creative
technologies with the advent of Tsukuba Science City.
• Dr. Yutaka Tokiwa is a recognized authority and pioneer in the development of
biodegradable polymer blends.
• Several RITE researchers are working in Dr. Tokiwa's laboratory.
28 Reports on Organizations, Companies, and Ministries



Unitika is just over twenty years old. The company was formed in 1970 through the
merging of Nichibo, a fiber producer founded in 1889, and Nippon Rayo, a fiber and
plastics producer founded in 1926. The current research and development center in Uji
was opened in 1939 (Nichibo). Current business in Unitika is divided into eleven
divisional lines:

Technical Development
New Business Development
Fibers and Textile #1
Fibers and Textile #2
Glass Fibers
Construction and Real Estate
Synthetic Spun Textile

The research philosophy at Unitika is to maintain current business and extend into new
areas that are considered viable long-term opportunities. Biodegradable polymers,
particularly for fibers, are seen as such an opportunity. This opportunity is being exploited
in the Fine Chemicals, Nonwovens, Plastics, and Synthetic Fibers divisions.


• The company has well thought-out goals developed through understanding its available
• Unitika is open to new ideas and has very active collaborations outside the company.
• The company projects that biodegradable plastics will probably only comprise a niche
• Unitika has a serious concern about costs, and believes this to be very limiting for the
• Company representatives express honest doubt, and are reserving decisions and
commitment to biodegradables to a later date.
• The company considers biodegradability to be total removability from the
Robert W. Lenz 29


Zeneca, K.K. is a 100% wholly-owned subsidiary of Zeneca Ltd. (U.K.). On June 1, 1993,
Zeneca became a separate company from ICI, its former owner. The task force, consisting
of Drs. McCarthy, Lenz, and Kaplan, met with Yoshinobu Muta, Manager of BioProducts;
Makoto Yamashita, Biopol Commercial Manager; and Katsuhiko Tsuchikura, Biopol
Technical Manager, at the Zeneca Office located in Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo. The entire staff of
Zeneca, K.K. consists of ten people in both the Tokyo office and in the research and
development laboratory in Tsukuba at Japan Technical Center.

The biodegradation position of Zeneca is to impose strict guidelines on converters to use,

ideally, biodegradable or inert food grade colorants and additives, and insure complete
biodegradation of any product using Biopol, or poly (3-hydroxybutyrate-co-3-
hydroxyvalerate). Currently there are no industry or government standards. Zeneca stated
that incinerators are difficult to site. Also, large city composting facilities are a problem
due to the lack of farmers near large cities and fear of contamination. The company stated
that home composting is popular, and that there are sophisticated composting devices that
can be installed inside the home; 3,000 of these very popular devices have been sold. In
addition, the consumer feels somewhat better when purchasing a biodegradable product
since, in the worst case, if the waste is dumped into the ocean or ends up as litter, it will


• Zeneca, K.K. is a supplier of Biopol, which is produced at the company's United

Kingdom plant. Approximately 50% of its sales, from a capacity of 300 tons in 1992
and 600 tons in 1993, were sold in Japan.
• Large-volume commercial and developmental products include a disposable razor,
shampoo bottles, golf tees, combs, utensils, dishes, cups, and toiletry products.
• All research on Biopol is done in the United Kingdom. However, the company has
facilities for applications and technical service at the Technical Center of ICI Japan
Ltd. in Tsukuba.
30 Reports on Organizations, Companies, and Ministries



Group A: Dr. Graham Swift

Rohm & Haas Co.
Research Laboratories
Spring House, Pennsylvania

Professor Samuel J. Huang

Department of Chemistry
University of Connecticut, Storrs
Storrs, Connecticut

Professor Steven Goodwin

Department of Microbiology
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Amherst, Massachusetts

Group B: Professor Robert W. Lenz

Polymer Science and Engineering Department
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Amherst, MA 01003-4530

Dr. David L. Kaplan

U.S. Army Natick Research, Development and
Engineering Center
Natick, Massachusetts

Professor Stephen P. McCarthy

Department of Plastics Engineering
University of Massachusetts, Lowell
Lowell, Massachusetts


The following schedule was arranged by the Biodegradable Plastics Society:


1 A and B MITI* , MAFF* PWMI*
2 A RIKEN* Toppan Printing
B RIKEN Dai Nippon Printing
3 A Showa high Polymer Kao Corp., BPS*
B Zeneca Mitsui Toatsu Chemicals, BPS
4 A Kirin Brewery TIT*
B Keio Univ. Taisei Corp.
5 A Kyoto Univ. Unitika
B Nippon Gohsei KIT*
6 A and B Japan Corn Starch
7 A and B Osaka National Research Institute Shimadzu
8 A Aicello Chem. Co Toyohashi Univ. of Tech.
B Nagoya Univ. Mitsubishi Petrochem. Co.
9 A and B ---------- Nippon Shokubai
10 A and B
Government Institutes in Tsukuba

MITI Ministry of International Trade and Industry
MAFF Ministry of Agriculture, Farming and Fisheries
PWMI Plastics Waste Management Institute
RIKEN Research Institute of Physical and Chemical Research
BPS Biodegradable Plastics Society
TIT Tokyo Institute of Technology
KIT Kyoto Institute of Technology


A. Questions on financial support for research and development and on policy


• What are the sources of support from industry, government, university and /or
• What is the duration of support -- are the funds given for long or short periods of time?
• Are there any restrictions on publications, and is the choice of research investigations
and directions given to scientists in the use of the funds?
• Who owns the patents and how are royalties of licenses arranged?
• Do some of the funds given to universities or institutes go to the support of students or
post-doctoral fellows?
• Is a distinction made between basic and applied research for project selection and
financial purposes?
• What are the national priorities for short and long-term solutions to plastic waste
disposal. What is the relative importance of recycling, incineration, landfills, ocean
disposal, and biodegradation? Is plastic pollution on land (litter) and at sea given a
high priority? How much effort is being placed on composting?
• Are there specific initiatives and funding programs for these subjects? If so, what is
the percentage of distribution of effort in each? Are these programs coordinated by
various agencies, i.e., by government, industry, and institutions?
• Do government, industry or academic programs and institutes set policies and control
priorities for research? If so, at what level in these funding agencies are programs
initiated? How does the coordination between these various levels and agencies work?
• Is there any possibility that legislation will be passed in Japan requiring the use of
biodegradable polymers and/or plastics for specific applications? If so, will the
government provide a tax incentive for that purpose?

B. Questions about research and development projects and programs:

• What polymers and related materials are being studied?

• What are the primary goals of the research?
• What polymer processing issues are being studied? Is recycling considered important?
• What types of products are being targeted?
• How is biodegradation assessed (including definitions, acceptability, and test
34 Appendix C. Questions Posed to Japanese Hosts

• Who funds the work and at what level of effort (number of research workers
• How long has it been funded?
• When do you expect to have a product for evaluation and for sale in quantity?
• What are the expected consumer and/or industrial markets for your product?
• What is the expected price of the materials; which raw materials will be used in its
• How important is it to derive the technology from renewable resources rather than use
petrochemicals as the raw materials?
• How does this effort fit within other approaches to the problem of waste disposal (e.g.,
recycling, incineration, etc.)?
• Does the research and development involve cooperation and exchanges between
industry, universities, and government? If so, how is that arranged and funded?

C. We would be pleased to receive from each organization:

• Material that will help us write our report, including copies of publications, patents,
and summaries of activities, and reference listings.
• Suggestions on how to foster the exchange of information and collaborations between
the United States and Japan.
• Perceptions of strengths and weaknesses of the United States and of Japan in this field.
ISBN 1-883712-38-6